Daily Archives: March 28th, 2008

We love Nazi symbolism, right?

… are you offended yet?

Two bits of symbolism I feel like commenting on:

1. The Swastika
Not, as some people insist on calling it, a “broken cross,” implying some link between Nazism and Christianity; Nazis persecuted Catholics for their religion, too, you know.[1] It’s become about the most enduring symbol of the regime, and if I see my students drawing one (has happened once or twice) I just about hit the roof. But, of course, the Nazis did not invent it: as a symbol it’s been around for centuries, mostly in non-European settings. So I think it’s sad that it got appropriated by the Nazis, and is basically beyond hope of redemption.

2. The Olympic torch relay
Not, as is sometimes presumed, an aspect of the long-dead Greek games that’s been reintroduced for the modern ones. No, instead this is something that was – you guessed it – invented for the Munich games, to look good in Leni Riefenstahl’s movie. Don’t believe me? Mary Beard wrote it, and she’s a Cambridge classics scholar. This, I think, is the most insidious of Hitler’s legacy – neoNazi skinheads are nutters, but everyone turns out for the torch relay, don’t they? (Well, except for objectionable people like me.) We might spout things like cultural appropriation here, as with the swastika, and hope that that makes it better – but we’ve also given the ceremony a pseudo-history to make it seem ok. As an historian, I find that objectionable; as a moral human bean, I find that whole situation repugnant.

[1] Please, please note: I am in no way implying that this was in any way commensurate with the Nazi persecution of the Jews. And I know there are some suggestion that the then-Pope didn’t do as much as he ought to, to help the Jews (and the current Pope, too, seems to have copped a bit of that flak). That’s not the point of this post, though![2]
[2] No, I’m not Catholic; I’m a set in stone, dyed in the wool, Protestant. Again, not the point.